Jan 182013

Samantha Billings, and Michael Kelly stand in the Tipsy Teapot kitchen where they use the kitchen to create their vegan treats called

Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector

Samantha Billings, and Michael Kelly stand in the Tipsy Teapot kitchen where they use the kitchen to create their vegan treats called “Sam and Mike’s Munchies” and sell online and markets. Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)

By Michael Abramowitz

Friday, January 18, 2013

East Carolina University graduate Samantha Billings has a passion to keep people healthy and happy, and knows two ways to get the job done. One, become a doctor; two, open Sam and Mike’s Munchies — not necessarily in that order.

Billings (she’s Sam) and her college sweetheart turned business partner, Mike Kelly, are embarking on an entrepreneurial endeavor to bring healthy and tasty prepared snacks and foods to Greenville and beyond.

The two use specialized food preparation tools to transform raw, organic and gluten-free vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds into entrees, salads, side dishes, desserts and snacks.

They offer weekly bag lunch delivery service of their health food products to individuals and businesses in the Greenville area.

“Eating plant-based foods is highly nutritious, without fats or chemicals,” Billings said. “We keep it raw because cooking draws much of the nutrients out of most foods.”

Their business idea started last summer, when Billings and Kelly asked Uptown Greenville’s Bianca Shoneman how they could get a concession at the Five Points Umbrella Market.

“Bianca asked what our business name is, and I hadn’t thought about that; I hadn’t thought about having a real business,” Billings said. “So, I just came up with a name right there: Sam and Mike’s Munchies.”

Their success and popularity at the umbrella market sparked Billings’ enthusiasm to see if the idea could grow, she said, and set her on a course her parents were not expecting.

“My parents told me to have fun with the munchies project, but to stay on course with my medical studies,” Billings said.

But she could not shake the entrepreneurial bug, and convinced her boyfriend and partner to stick with her.

“I thought it would be fun. We did really well at the umbrella market, and I said, ‘Michael, we could do this.’” Billings said.

Kelly needed to be convinced at first, he said.

“It became apparent to me it would be more complicated as a business venture,” Kelly said. “I admit I had to be dragged along a bit at first, but then I thought why not explore this other avenue?”

Billings and Kelly’s explorations led them to participation in the Joint Greenville-Pitt Chamber of Commerce and City of Greenville SEED program (Supporting Economic and Entrepreneurial Development).

SEED is a co-working space in downtown Greenville that provides entrepreneurs with a shared turn-key environment for three months to cultivate a business idea at no cost.

During the three-month period, each entrepreneur gets access to peers, coaching, high-speed Wi-Fi, a conference room, copy machine and printer. Program director and chamber vice president Scott Senatore said he recognized in Billings the attributes necessary for small-business success.

“We liked their business idea, and it didn’t take long to see Sam’s passion, which is extremely important,” Senatore said. “We provided guidance, and other entrepreneurs in the community kept them motivated to make use of the SEED support system and move toward starting their own business.”

After finishing the SEED program, Senatore arranged a mutually beneficial connection between Billings and Kelly and Delia Liuzza, owner of the downtown cafe The Tipsy Teapot.

Liuzza’s small kitchen was sitting idle at night, so she agreed to rent it to the entrepreneurs for preparation of their health food products.

Sam and Mike’s Munchies is not the type of business venture that SEED coordinators had expected to work with because they do not fit the typical office environment, Senatore said. It was a learning experience for his support group as well, he said.

“We learned a lot about what SEED can do because of folks like Sam and Mike,” Senatore said. “We learned we can be flexible and fit the needs of a wide spectrum of entrepreneurs.”

After their success helping people like Billings and Kelly, SEED is recruiting its next group of would-be entrepreneurs wanting to make their dreams a reality.

The second SEED program will run from Feb. 15 to May 15. Those interested in applying for a seat at the center can visit www.greenvilleseed.com for more information.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at 252-329-9571 or mabramowitz@reflector.com.

via The Daily Reflector.


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